Don't be afraid to feel when you talk about race

Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography


There are conversations in our culture that occupy special pockets. You know, those conversations that are reserved for special occasions when we’re prepared to hash out a perfect solution in one fell swoop (or limit ourselves tip-toeing around the edges). The race conversation is one of those conversations.

We head into conversations about race filled with dread, worry, fear, and heightened stress. Then we judge ourselves (and each other) for feeling what we’re feeling, presume that there’s something wrong with us for feeling what we’re feeling, and then try to find the words to communicate what we need to communicate in the midst of all of the feelings we’re ashamed about.

We often try to cope with this by pretending that there’s no place for feelings in conversations about race. We intellectualize human stories so much that the realities of the ways we experience race become abstract and seemingly detached from the everyday lives we lead.

And in the process, we sacrifice our ability to connect.

Productive conversations about race don’t happen because we’ve parsed out feeling from fact, history, context, research, and personal experience.

Productive conversations about race happen as we learn how to make room for feeling as we awkwardly stumble through unrehearsed dialogue about fact, history, context, research, and personal experience.

That’s how we begin to see each other.

Having feelings doesn’t mean you’re incapable of learning how to talk about race. Having feelings is part of being human. And real dialogue about race inevitably involves palpable and nuanced discussions about real human experiences.

So don’t be afraid to feel when you talk about race. Pay attention to your feelings. Take care of your own feelings. Feeling is part of the process of learning how to move through the dialogue with honesty and openness instead of putting on the show that we think is supposed to transpire.

And that’s a big part of how we inch a little bit closer to creating connection in everyday dialogue about race - instead of treating the conversation like it belongs in a special pocket.